July 18th, 2007
02:43 PM ET
12 years ago

Addressing poverty, Obama asks how can we 'allow it?'

Obama poses with a youth group from Covenant House in Washington, Wednesday.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Speaking at a brand new community center in one of DC's poorer neighborhoods Wednesday, Sen. Barack Obama outlined his vision to revamp America's inner cities.

"The streets here are close to our capital, but far from the people it represents," the Illinois Democrat said to the predominantly African American crowd. "These Americans cannot hire lobbyists to roam the halls of Congress on their behalf, and they cannot write $1,000 campaign checks to make their voices heard. They suffer most from a politics that has been tipped in favor of those with the most money, and influence, and power. How can a country like this allow it?"

Obama unveiled his five-part plan aimed at "changing the odds" for people living in cities. He promised to increase the minimum wage, create affordable housing and jobs, provide education and financial support for parents and create an institution modeled after the World Bank specifically for America's cities.

Obama also said he wanted to launch an "all-encompassing, all-hands-on-deck anti-poverty effort" to 20 different cities around the country. The program, originally launched in Harlem, includes free daycare and medical services, affordable food, early education and counseling for expecting parents. He said he knows it will be expensive, but that he "will find the money because we can't afford not to."

"The moral question about poverty in America – How can a country like this allow it? – has an easy answer: we can’t," Obama said. "The political question that follows –what do we do about it? – has always been more difficult. But now that we’re finally seeing the beginnings of an answer, this country has an obligation to keep trying."

One of Obama's rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, John Edwards, is currently on a poverty tour this week.

TIME.com: Can Poverty Define John Edwards?

–CNN Associate Producer Lauren Kornreich

Filed under: Uncategorized
soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. B. Freeman, Boston, MA

    There used to be the notion, among the older generation (eg. the World War II generation) that civilized societies cared for their weakest members and didn't allow them to fall through the cracks. That means the more advantaged among us cough up a little to help others who don't have those advantages. It wasn't a liberal or conservative or democratic ideal, it was a civilized one.

    More and more people are starting to say, bring that concept back as an American ideal. I for one want to live in compassionate, well-run society, not one that's just full of people who are looking out for #1. We've had enough of that.

    July 18, 2007 10:57 pm at 10:57 pm |
  2. Perry, Dallas, Texas

    Get off your lazy asses and get a job.

    How's that for addressing poverty?

    July 19, 2007 01:21 am at 1:21 am |
  3. Eric W, New Jersey

    oh yeah Will, Alan Keyes, a real black leader. I'd be surprised if he got elected dogcatcher in harlem.

    July 19, 2007 02:45 am at 2:45 am |
  4. Larry, Trenton, New Jersey

    Will in Miami seems to have a firm grasp on the human condition. "Poor Americans Are Poor Because Of The Choices They Made". How observant, how insightful. This of course is another case of the big bird with its head buried deep in the sand. With the minimum wage being what it is, and healthcare being as expensive as it is, and the trip to the gas station costing what it does, and lets not forget our obligations such as the bill for the heat, water gas and lights. RIGHT WILL, poor people are responsible for their conditions. PS. Cosby isn't a BLACK LEADER, he is an actor okay.

    July 19, 2007 03:38 am at 3:38 am |
  5. Jeff Spangler, Arlington, VA

    It may not be a question of "allowing" poverty, but of whether government can provide workable solutions to the root causes of poverty. Ignorance, lawless attitudes, irreparably broken famililes, and other causes are not easily fixed by anyone other than the victims themselves. And past attempts by government to help have not borne much fruit.

    July 19, 2007 07:06 am at 7:06 am |
  6. John, Minneapolis, MN

    Poverty will always exist, because there will always be people unwilling to take the opportunity to rise from it. It's a great time we live in – millions of years of poverty and 2008 just happens to be the year where no one will be poor anymore.

    July 19, 2007 08:22 am at 8:22 am |
  7. WDRussell East Liverpool, Ohio

    There have been many nations that adopted a philosophy to eliminate poverty – it was called Socialism (Former Soviet Union, China, Cuba, etc). Considering it worked so well there, why not here!

    I am interested that all of the countries you listed are communists countries.
    The socialist countries are ones like Norway, Sweden, Denmark.
    Now you can back to more of your created stories.

    July 19, 2007 08:35 am at 8:35 am |
  8. Shawnie - Grants Pass, OR

    Thank you for being brave enough to speak the truth. It is politically incorrect to place responsibility for poverty where it really belongs.

    I came out of abject poverty, divorced with six children, no child support. There were times I didn't eat so my children could. Never took a dime in welfare. We stood on our own feet in poverty and hardship.

    I also now make a six figure salary and my oldest is leaving for college. It's called hard work and determination.

    Our society does poverty a huge injustice because we enable it. We render these people incapable and tell them they are incapable of changing their circumstances. We tell them that some one else owes them something. Just sit there and wait.

    All my children know that the quality of life is their own responsibility. My sixteen year old earns money by writing web sites for people. He taught himself how to write code. It is not because he came from an advantaged background or had any mentor, it is because he took responsibility for himself and pursued it.

    Poverty is a dis-heartening circumstance when you are in it, but it does not define your grit and soul, you do that yourself. I liked Obama, read part of his book, considered him sage.

    I am very unimpressed with Obama at this point. He has taken the stance of a more shallow politician on this and other issues. Shame on him for feeding that social disease -"Someone owes you".

    July 19, 2007 08:39 am at 8:39 am |
  9. Tom - Dedham, Mass

    The people that are hammering Will, do you have any concrete ideas on how to stop this issue of poverty?

    More social programs maybe, how much more money should we spend?

    Is it limitless, until everyone has two cars, a white picket fenced home, with a dog and a cat?

    The individuals (Black or White) that do make it "out of poverty", did they get more assistance than the next guy or did they just try a little harder?

    Funny how Cosby was once the most beloved black figure, but now he discusses self restraint, self responsibility and self reliance and he is just another "actor".

    Some assistance is indeed part of the solution, but what do you say about the generational cycle after cycle that does bleep to better themselves or has that been the conservatives fault also?

    July 19, 2007 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  10. Vicki St JOhn, Kansas

    I'm an educated female who works in public health. I feel that are whole sytem needs to be reformed. We enbale americans to live in poverty. If you are in the welfare system and you are trying to work you get your benefits cut off, so why work. We have young mothers who do nothing but set at home and have a baby every year because we don't educate our young and useful things such as birth control in school. We have in our state a farm worker program were anyone who works with crops at least in the last two years can get free health care up to s certain point but they don't have to prove it and you don't have to be a legal citizen to get it. Education is the answer to a lot of our problems. There needs to be programs in the high schools to inform teens they do have choices such as birth control, educate them on where to go to get birth control. Teach the teens of today about finances how to mamage there check books, programs to inform kids there is money to go to college and where to go to learn about what is alvailable. Don't punish people because they are trying to work by taking their benefits away, they should be encouraged, given alittle help to get on track. Katrina was a prime example of people living in poverty> When Katrina roared into Louisiana it brought poverty in that state out in the open, most of the low income people affected were on welfare and we let them. Education should be available to everyone and if they stay living in poverty then they have no one else to blame but their selves. We had victims who where brought to a town close to where I live, the people of this town got them a house to live in and jobs. When the victims brought here found out that they had jobs they chose to go back to Louisiana. So what does that tell us. Poverty is a learned tradition in our country and will not change till they are educated.You can't help people who won't help theirselves.

    July 19, 2007 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  11. Brandi, Iowa City, IA, formerly Boston, MA

    How easily some can forget where they came from when they start to experience success (Will).

    July 19, 2007 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  12. Mike, HI

    B. Freeman, Boston, MA:

    "There used to be the notion, among the older generation (eg. the World War II generation) that civilized societies cared for their weakest members and didn’t allow them to fall through the cracks. That means the more advantaged among us cough up a little to help others who don’t have those advantages. It wasn’t a liberal or conservative or democratic ideal, it was a civilized one."

    I'm sorry, but that is a socialist ideal. You are absolutely free, and encouraged, to donate your money and help out those less fortunate, but I'm just as free to hoard my money and not let anyone have it. I don't think the government should be able to take my money and redistribute it.

    I do think it is 'civilized' to help those facing a greater struggle to succeed, but I think socialism is counterproductive. American civilization is based on the ideal of, "equal opportunities," not, "equal outcome." Let's give everyone the chance to succeed in a free market, but let's not subsidize being out of work. If I make a bad choice, I should have to pay for it, not you.

    July 19, 2007 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  13. Rupa, Boston,MA

    'keep trying' ...is not a good enough answer , Obama needs to come up with a more thorough answer to win our heart , we are eagerly waiting to hear from you Mr. Obama .

    July 19, 2007 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  14. Jon, Sacramento ~ Ca

    WDRussell ~ East Liverpool OH writes,

    "I am interested that all of the countries you listed are communists countries.
    The socialist countries are ones like Norway, Sweden, Denmark.
    Now you can back to more of your created stories."

    Follow along Mr Russell – Communism is a branch of the broader approach called Socialism (Read Wikipedia online regarding Communism). The Communist Party was the ruling body which instituted SOCIALISM within the referenced countries.

    Before jumping into the pool of political debate you'll want to put on your proverbial floaties.

    July 19, 2007 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  15. Melissa Selig, Toronto

    Re: Will's post

    I believe the mainly negative reactions to Will's post and lack of acknowledgement to what he was possibly standing for can be broken down to this contradiction:

    "I’m from a VERY poor family. Nobody ever provided anything for me – I’ve earned what I have in life...
    My family recieved various forms of welfare."

    I love the idea of personal responsibility and I believe that is the intention standing behind Will's post. Maybe there's no compassion there, but that doesn't change the stand for personal responsibility. I too stand for for that as well as for character, empowerment and integrity. But I also stand for acknowledgement and gratitude. I too grew up very poor and now I am thoroughly greatful of the opportunities I was given. I will never say that I got out of poverty doing everything by myself. I used to think that, but after careful consideration and looking back through the past, I know I had a lot of help along the way. One source of help came from the very people who gave me employment opportunities – to have a job and a source of income despite the fact they might have known I was living in a "ghetto" neighbourhood.

    For several years of my life I was completely ashamed to let others know what neighbourhood I lived in, especially when I joined the workforce. Now I am not rich but I am doing very well. I am also going back to the neighbourhood I grew up in to take some actions that make a difference. I had a lot of opportunities growing upin my neighbourhood that no longer exist. I completely took them for granted. Looking back I can't imagine not having particular programs. Slowly I've connected with some like minded people and formed a commitee. I've already aquired some requested donations for a recreation program. Next we plan to rebuild a playground that was torn down and not replaced for more than 5 years.

    I would encourage anyone who grew up in similar circumstances to go back to the place they once called home and be a cause in the matter – in any matter that requires an action.

    Kind Regards to all.

    August 1, 2007 01:50 am at 1:50 am |
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